Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via Paypal or Patreon. To use Patreon, go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation. Or you subscribe or donate using PayPal as follows:


Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If neither Paypal nor Patreont work for you, you can support Behind The Black by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
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Or you can donate by using Zelle through your bank. You will need to give my name and email address (found at the bottom of the "About" page). The best part of this electronic option is that no fees will be deducted! What you donate will be what I receive.

Sculptured lava south of Olympus Mons?

Sculptured lava?
Click for full image.

Time for a cool image! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on September 8, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a region of strangely sculptured terrain located several hundred miles south of Olympus Mons.

It appears the prevailing winds are to the west. The question is whether the wind is shaping a hard lava surface, over eons, or is shaping instead layers of dust or volcanic ash quickly and seasonally. At this location either is possible. In fact, we might even be seeing evidence of both at the same time.

The overview map below shows that the location is just outside the Medusae Fossae Formation, the largest volcanic ash deposit on Mars.
» Read more

Leaving Earth cover

There are now only 6 copies left of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. After I sell one more, I will be raising the price substantially. Thus, if you want to get an autographed copy of this rare collector's item for only $100, plus $5 shipping, now is the time to buy. Once I sell one more book and only have five copies left, the price goes up to $150 (plus shipping for the next two.


To get your copy while the getting is good, please send a $105 check (which includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


Leaving Earth is also available as an inexpensive ebook!


Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, can be purchased as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.


If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big oppressive tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.

"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke

Data: Vaccines don’t stop COVID, but COVID is not that dangerous

UK COVID numbers in late October 2021

The graph to the right was created from the data produced by the United Kingdom Health Agency covering the period from October 25, 2021 to November 21, 2021. It shows the percentages of the vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals who became infected with COVID, were hospitalized by it, and even died from it.

As you can clearly see, it apparently makes no difference anymore whether you received no shots, one shot, two shots, or three shots. Your chances of getting infected with COVID is just as likely if you are vaccinated than if you are not. The shots don’t protect you.

The graph is part of a long article detailing how in the UK, COVID appears to no longer be a virus of the unvacccinated, but in fact is now a virus of the vaccinated. Apparently, you stand a higher chance of getting sick from COVID if you have been vaccinated than if you have not.

The story however distorts the truth badly, since it exaggerates the danger. This graph was produced based on these numbers:

The report reveals that there were 833,332 recorded Covid-19 cases, 9,094 Covid-19 hospitalisations and 3,700 Covid-19 deaths from October 25th to November 21st.

When we run the actual number of deaths against the number of people infected with COVID, whether vaccinated or not, we find that 99.5% easily survive the illness. This confirms previous numbers I have cited covering the entire United States. COVID, like the flu, is relatively harmless to almost the entire population. Only the elderly, the sick, and the chronically ill are threatened seriously by it.

So, what take-away should we take from this information?

1. All vaccine mandates are irrational. They do nothing to reduce the risk of COVID. To impose such rules based on this data suggests that the Biden administration is completely divorced from reality in its policy making.

2. The virus itself is not a serious threat and never was. 99.5% of everyone survives it. Since we now know that the lockdowns, the mask mandates, the vaccines, the installation of plexiglass everywhere, and the social distancing rules did nothing to limit its spread, we should stop all these crazy irrational policies now. Return to normal life, and let the virus finally spread through the population in a way that will allow natural immunity to build up. Only then can we finally choke this thing off for good.

I think the public is finally ready. I think that most everyone is sick and tired of stupid rules and irrational policies and will resist strongly any attempts at new rules. You might see them imposed in fascists states like California and New York, but in general the country, even the world, is ready to tell power-hungry politicians to go jump in a lake.

Musk shakes up Raptor engine development

Capitalism in space: Based on all the reports I’ve read, Elon Musk this past weekend did a major shake-up of the management that was running the Raptor engine development, apparently focused on the need to be able to mass produce these engines at a very high rate to allow numerous test flights in the coming year.

More here, including this company email from Musk:

Unfortunately, the Raptor production crisis is much worse than it had seemed a few weeks ago. As we have dug into the issues following the exiting of prior senior management, they have unfortunately turned out to be far more severe than was reported. There is no way to sugarcoat this.

I was going to take this weekend off, as my first weekend off in a long time, but instead, I will be on the Raptor line all night and through the weekend.

The management shakeup was as follows:

This ‘senior management’ that left is likely referring to Will Heltsley, former SpaceX senior vice president of propulsion. As CNBC reported, he left Raptor production due to a lack of progress. In addition, former SpaceX vice president of mission and launch operation Lee Rosen and senior director of mission and launch operations Rick Lim have left the company. Raptor engine production is now being led by Jacob Mackenzie, who has been with the company for over six years.

The reports imply that the engine itself is in trouble, but I do not think that is the issue. Instead, as Musk has said many times, more important than developing new technology is developing the efficient manufacturing processes that will allow the company to take advantage of that technology. It appears the manufacturing part of Raptor had not been covered well by the now disposed management.

SpaceX not only needs a working reliable Raptor engine, it needs to be able to mass produce them in the hundreds, quickly. This is the challenge that apparently the previous management failed to face. Musk is now refocusing Raptor development around this need.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

NASA postpones ISS spacewalk due to debris from Russian anti-sat test

NASA today postponed a planned ISS spacewalk to fix an antenna because of a threat from debris from the Russian anti-sat test.

On Tuesday, about five hours before the astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron were due to venture outside the space station, Nasa said on Twitter that the spacewalk to fix a failed antenna had been cancelled. “NASA received a debris notification for the space station. Due to the lack of opportunity to properly assess the risk it could pose to the astronauts, teams have decided to delay the 30 November spacewalk until more information is available,” it tweeted.

This problem is only going to get worse. The Russians did something with that anti-satellite test that was either so stupid as to defy logic, or intentional in the worst sort of way. Russia’s actions actually suggest the Putin administration wanted to sabotage ISS.

Engineers recover a third Hubble instrument

Engineers have now reactivated a third instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope, bringing the telescope very close to full operations again with only one instrument, a spectrograph, still in safe mode.

The Hubble Space Telescope team recovered the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph instrument on Sunday, Nov. 28, moving the telescope further toward full science operations. Three of Hubble’s four active instruments are now collecting science data once again.

The team also continued work on developing and testing changes to instrument software that would allow them to conduct science operations even if they encounter several lost synchronization messages in the future. Those changes would first be installed on the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph once they’re completed and tested within a few weeks. Hubble’s other instruments would also receive similar changes. The team has not detected further synchronization message issues since monitoring began Nov. 1.

Russians set December 8th for launch of next ISS tourist flight

Capitalism in space: Roscosmos today announced that the next tourist flight to ISS of two Japanese tourists will launch on December 8th.

“According to the Russian plan of ISS flight, the Soyuz-2.1A rocket carrying the Soyuz MS-20 transport spaceship with the 20th visiting ISS expedition on board is scheduled to lift off from the Baikonur cosmodrome at 10:38 am Moscow time [07:38 GMT] on December 8, 2021,” the agency said.

The crew will include Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and two Japanese space tourists – billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano

Maezawa is also the man who has signed a deal with SpaceX to fly to the Moon on Starship, once that spacecraft is finished.

Chicken Little update! A new COVID variant!

The announcement by a South African doctor yesterday of several “mild” cases of a new variant of COVID-19 has sent governments throughout the worldwide scrambling in utter panic. Israel has shut itself down again. Joe Biden banned all traffic from most African countries.

From the doctor’s report:

On Nov. 18, four family members all tested positive for COVID with complete exhaustion and Coetzee said she reported the findings to South Africa’s vaccine advisory committee. She said about two dozen of her patients have now tested positive for COVID with symptoms of the new variant — mostly healthy men who turned up “feeling so tired,” the Telegraph reported. About half were unvaccinated.

“We had one very interesting case, a kid, about six years old, with a temperature and a very high pulse rate, and I wondered if I should admit her,” she told the news outlet. “But when I followed up two days later, she was so much better.” Coetzee said she was worried the new variant could still hit much harder in older people with co-morbidities like diabetes or heart disease.

And of course, death-head Anthony Fauci immediately declared the U.S. should “be prepared to do anything and everything” to stop it, even though at this point it has not even entered the U.S. and once again, its effects appear “mild.”

The first four cases in Botswana were all vaccinated, so once again the vaccines are proving ineffective in stopping COVID.

Let’s get real. What all of these stories focus on is the sudden rise in cases, as if that represents bodies lying in the street. NOT. As has been the case from day one, 99% of everyone that gets COVID survives it. Period. I expect based on the mildness reported for this variant things will be no different.

COVID is a respiratory illness like the flu. It might be worse than past versions, but it still is the same. The human race cannot vaccinate itself out of this problem. From the beginning the only solution was to allow the younger healthy population get it, obtain natural immunity, and thus choke the virus out.

We did not let that happen and are paying for it now. Still, we can finally come to our senses and let this play out, protecting the vulnerable populations (the elderly, the chronically sick, etc) while letting this new probably relatively less potent variant quickly spread.

More and endless booster shots are not going to accomplish anything.

The NYTimes does real journalism!

In what might be the most astonishing report from the New York Times earlier this month, one of its reporters decided to take a look at the governance in those states where the Democrats essentially rule with no Republican opposition, and asked this very pointed question: “What do Democrats really do when they have all the power?”

The result is the video below. Watch it. You will be entertained at how the great and all-powerful New York Times suddenly discovers some obvious news.

Nice overview of space tourism options

Link here. The author does an excellent job outlining in detail the pros and cons of each space tourism option, from Virgin Galactic (“joy ride”) to Axiom’s orbital station trips (“Five stars!”)

She misses a few however, such as the recent announcement by the balloon company Worldview that it plans near space tourists flights in competition with Space Perspectives, and for a much smaller ticket price. There are also two Spanish balloon companies gearing up to capture this end of the space tourist business.

Regardless, if you’ve got some spare cash and want to spend it in an adventurous way, here is a guide for doing so.

Engineers: Webb undamaged by “incident”, ready for December 22nd launch

Arianespace engineers have confirmed after testing that the James Webb Space Telescope was undamaged by “incident” that occurred during stacking, and have okayed the resumption of the telescope’s preparation for launch.

On Wednesday, Nov. 24, engineering teams completed these tests, and a NASA-led anomaly review board concluded no observatory components were damaged in the incident. A “consent to fuel” review was held, and NASA gave approval to begin fueling the observatory. Fueling operations will begin Thursday, Nov. 25, and will take about 10 days.

The launch is now set for December 22nd.

China’s Kuaizhou-1A rocket launches classified government satellite

Late yesterday China’s Kuaizhou-1A rocket successfully launched classified government satellite into orbit.

The Kuaizhou rocket is supposedly operated by the pseudo private company Expace, but nothing it does happens without the approval of the Chinese government.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

44 China
26 SpaceX
20 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. 44 to 41 in the national rankings.

Ingenuity completes 16th Mars flight

According to a tweet by the Ingenuity team, the Mars helicopter successfully completed its 16th flight on Mars on November 21st.

“#MarsHelicopter continues to thrive!” mission personnel wrote in a tweet posted Monday (Nov. 22). “The mighty rotorcraft completed its 16th flight on the Red Planet last weekend, traveling 116 meters northeast for 109 seconds. It captured color images during the short hop, but those will come down in a later downlink.”

No images have as yet been downloaded from the flight.

Rocket Lab to attempt 1st stage recovery by helicopter, beginning early next year

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab announced today that based on the data obtained during its previous launch in November, the company will attempt a helicopter recovery in the air of its Electron rocket’s first stage, starting with its first launches in 2022.

With the success of this latest mission, Rocket Lab will now move to aerial capture attempts with a helicopter for future recovery missions in the first half of 2022. Rocket Lab’s recovery helicopter will include auxiliary fuel tanks for extended flight time during the capture attempt. While Rocket Lab’s engineers and recovery vessel will also be stationed at sea, Rocket Lab’s primary objective will be to return Electron’s booster to the mainland while attached to the helicopter. Improvements to the launch vehicle for this next recovery attempt will include a thermal protection system applied to the entire stage and its nine Rutherford engines to help it endure heat of up to 2,400 degrees Celsius during re-entry, and modifications to the parachute system including an engagement line for the recovery helicopter to capture and secure the booster.

The company has a launch scheduled for the end of November, but apparently it is not going to attempt a first stage recovery by helicopter during that mission.

If successful, Rocket Lab will have become the second company able to reuse its first stage, and thus cut the price it charges for launches significantly.

Russia successfully launches Progress with new docking hub for ISS

Russia today successfully launched a new Progress freighter carrying Prichal, a new docking hub for the Russian half of ISS.

If all goes as planned, Prichal will dock to Nauka in two days.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

43 China
26 SpaceX
19 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

China still leads the U.S. 43 to 41 in the national rankings. This launch was the 111th successful launch in 2021, which tied the number from 2018 that had been the highest since the 1990s.

SpaceX successfully launches NASA asteroid mission

Last night SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched NASA’s DART asteroid mission.

The first stage landed successfully, completing its third flight. This was SpaceX’s 26th launch in 2021, setting a new record for the company and in fact for any private company ever.

DART’s mission is to test one method for changing an asteroid’s orbit.

After launch tonight, DART will take aim on an asteroid called Dimorphos. The spacecraft will strike Dimorphos at nearly 15,000 mph (about 6.6 kilometers per second).

The primary science goal of the mission is to measure how the high-speed collision next September, which will destroy the DART spacecraft, disrupts the orbit of Dimorphos around nearby Didymos. The data could help plan a future mission to deflect an asteroid on a course to hit Earth.

Dimorphos and its larger companion Didymos pose no near-term threat to Earth, but the asteroids will be close enough to our planet next year for astronomers to observe DART’s impact using ground-based telescopes. The asteroids orbit the sun in an elongated path that occasionally bring them into Earth’s neighborhood. That makes them potentially hazardous asteroids, although scientists say there is no near-term threat from the pair.

No space mission has ever explored Didymos and Dimorphos, but scientists who have observed them through telescopes say the asteroids are about a half-mile (780 meters) and 525 feet (160 meters) in diameter, respectively.

An Italian cubesat is also on board, and will separate from DART about ten days before impact so that it can observe the impact with two camera.

The leaders in 2021 launch race:

43 China
26 SpaceX
18 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. 43 to 41 in the national rankings. For the U.S. SpaceX’s launch last night topped the U.S. total from last year, which was this country’s highest launch total since the 1960s.

Second camera on Hubble returned to science operations

Engineers working to reactivate the instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope have successfully brought a second camera out of safe mode.

NASA continues bringing the Hubble Space Telescope back to normal science operations, most recently recovering the Wide Field Camera 3 instrument Sunday, Nov. 21. This camera will be the second of Hubble’s instruments, after the Advanced Camera for Surveys, to resume science after suspending the spacecraft’s observations Oct. 25. The Wide Field Camera 3’s first science observation since the anomaly will be Nov. 23.

The team chose to restore the most heavily used Hubble instrument, the Wide Field Camera 3, which represents more than a third of the spacecraft’s observing time. Engineers also began preparing changes to the instrument parameters, while testing the changes on ground simulators. These changes would allow the instruments to handle several missed synchronization messages while continuing to operate normally if they occur in the future. These changes will first be applied to another instrument, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, to further protect its sensitive far-ultraviolet detector. It will take the team several weeks to complete the testing and upload the changes to the spacecraft.

The telescope’s other instruments remain in safe mode as the engineers continue to investigate the problem that caused the shut down on October 25th.

China launches another Earth observation satellite

China’s high pace of launches in 2021 continued yesterday with another launch, this time placing an Earth observation satellite into orbit using its Long March 4C rocket.

This was China’s 43rd successful launch in ’21, three more than it had predicted it would achieve at the start of the year and the most any single nation has accomplished since the Russians completed 49 in 1994.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

43 China
25 SpaceX
18 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. 43 to 40 in the national rankings.

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